When I saw that Sole was releasing a new album, I was instantly intrigued. Sole is definitely not new to the game as he and his Anticon friends did a lot for underground hip hop during the late 90s and early 00s. In my opinion, them and Definitive Jux really expanded people’s minds and stretched the imagination in terms of just what is and could be considered “hip hop.” I’ve mentioned them on Dead End Hip Hop more than once so I’m happy to finally be covering some of Sole’s music, even if it’s in the form of a written review rather than a full video.
Being a fan of his, I have almost all of Sole’s albums from his solo stuff to his work with The Skyrider Band. However, I have to admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of his Nuclear Winter Vol. 2 mixtape. It wasn’t so much that it was wack or anything. The songs just didn’t connect with me with the exception of ones like Hustle Hard, Blood Libel and a few others. But, on his new album, A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing, Sole surprised the shit out of me. He almost sounds like a completely different rapper with a new voice. He’s as disobedient and unruly as ever, but, as opposed to some of his more off-the-wall sounding work, this time he seems to be carefully planning out his punches so each one lands perfectly. His delivery is so on point with this album. I definitely dug his old stream-of-consciousness style flow, which he still uses on this album, but I feel like his flow is really poignant now. From the first line of the first song I had a feeling this album was going to be a monster.
And the lyrics? Oh, man…the lyrics. Sole drops some serious jewels on this album. On the first track, “Non-Workers Of The World”, he says “I barely care about music. I’d rather be in the trenches with sisters and brothers screaming ‘fuck those who dedicate their lives to fuck us.’” Yeah, he may say he barely cares about music, but if this is barely caring then I feel sorry for a lot of rappers who put their all into their music and come back with an album less than half as fresh as this one. On the same track, he also says “I used to get my ass kicked for wearing an X hat. Now I look at rap like ‘Where’s the Malcolm X at?’” These are true words. Hip hop is steadily losing its revolutionary feel and Sole isn’t afraid to say that he sees it and to make it known that it bothers him.
“Denver Nights” was a really cool track about Sole’s time spent with the Occupy movement. Some may think a song like this would come off pretentious, but I actually think it comes off as really sincere. He’s not bragging on some “I’m more revolutionary than you” type shit. He’s telling you what it’s like to be in the position he was in. The cold wind. The police harassment. Spending nights in a tent away from your family all so you can assist in making a change that you firmly believe it. The song makes you feel all that. Maybe it’s just me, but I totally missed the air of pretension with this track. Another standout track was “Never Work.” The production (by Ecid) is gorgeous and, again, Sole is dropping some knowledge in a way that is becoming totally unique to him. “Letter To A Young Rapper” was a really dope track to me as well. I think it was a great idea to write a song to let up-and-coming rappers know what to do while also telling them what not to do by outlining his own mistakes. Plus, I thought the line “I rap better than most members of my race; most white rappers sound like they’ve never been punched in the face” was a dope line. Haha! And, trust me, Sole, it’s not just white rappers! The boring, entitled, never-been-through-shit-so-I-don’t-rap-about-shit sound transcends all races.
I mentioned, before, about how people like Brother Ali and P.O.S. write tracks where you’re being preached to, but somehow don’t even know it. Well, with Sole, that doesn’t really apply. You’re being preached to and you know it. The great thing about Sole is, unlike a lot of rappers, he does it in a way that doesn’t come off pompous or boring. And he’s not throwing the same topic at you on every track. The themes are varied and the views are strong, however, it feels like he’s really asking you for a conversation rather than an argument. I feel like he wants to present his side to how things are so you can, maybe, re-evaluate the way you see things. He’s not writing a song just to make himself seem smarter than you. He’s not alienating the listener by using language you may not understand. I feel he’s writing the song to get you to think about things from a different angle. Even if you don’t agree with his views, you have to respect a motherfucker that says what he means and means what he says.
The production is a funny thing on this album. This time around, Sole enlisted the talents of a wide range of producers. It’s definitely not the sound that a die-hard fan would expect to hear on a Sole album. The thing is I feel like I would hate a lot of other rappers rhyming over these instrumentals, but somehow Sole does his thing over these tracks effortlessly. It’s really interesting to me how he manages to rhyme over a track like “Young Sole” (a beat I would expect to hear from ‘insert average radio rappers here___’ ) and sound totally comfortable on it given that it’s a sound that seems a bit foreign to him. That’s a testament to a true MC. Even though you’re rhyming over a radio-friendly beat, that doesn’t mean you have to give them radio-friendly rhymes. And the huge contrast in the sound of the songs makes for an interesting listen as you don’t get bored by production that’s too samey. Every track, to me, had a different mood while still allowing the record to have a cohesive feeling.
Out of the 13 tracks on this album, the only one that I didn’t really care for was Last Earth. The song just didn’t sound that good to me. Being vegan and an ex-eco-warrior, I totally support the topic covered. It’s just that the production didn’t move me and I didn’t really care for the vocals on it. I understand what he was going for with this, but, given the subject matter, the track just came off a bit too hokey for me. But, hey, that’s one song out of 13. That’s a pretty good fucking ratio! And the song was just bad to me. I can’t say it doesn’t fit and I can see others liking it. It just didn’t resonate with me.
Overall, I think this album is phenomenal. It’s definitely one of the bigger surprises for me this year and, actually, one of my favorite releases this year. From the production to the rhymes, I think this record has a lot to offer the traditional Sole fan as well as any newcomers that just happened upon this disk. Call it progression; call it digression; call it whatever you want. Bottom line is Sole put out a dope record and whether or not you choose to accept the change in sound (however slight or extreme you may see it) is your issue. My advice is to just listen to the record for what it is. A dope hip hop album with substance that, if given the change, might really make you think about things in a different way while bobbing your head at the same time.
The fact that this entire album was funded via Kickstarter, I think says a lot about Sole’s fans as a whole. Kudos to anyone who supported this album and kudos to Sole for assisting in proving to the hip hop community that you don’t need a record label to get your voice out there.
“This is Kanye at Haymarket, MC Hammer in Hell, Sinatra in Fallujah, Nina Simone in Guantanamo.”